Saturday, August 25, 2018

La Tour Eiffel

Have you ever noticed that you never visit your own tourist attractions?  When I lived in the Seattle Area (21 years, or so, depending on how it is counted), I visited the Space Needle once, because a group of friends decided we had to go.  I have since dragged uncounted exchange students there, but I think I have more fun because I am looking for things that I recognize in my original hometown.  (Actually, I do enjoy pointing out the giant spiders painted on the roof off to the northwest.)  I never go up by myself, however.

The first time I visited Paris 5 years ago, I walked underneath the Eiffel Tower and that was OK, because it wasn't my city.  I wouldn't recognize any landmarks.

This time, however, my hosts procured tickets with a tour guide.  Alex and I played cards all morning (he was such a good host, he let me win!), ate lunch, and set off (to the train, of course) precisely at the carefully calculated time.

And we missed the train.

Which meant we didn't catch the second train, to the stop at the Trocadero, on time.

A phone call from Sebastien:  where are you?  we are riding the first train.  We change trains.  Another phone call from Sebastien:  where are you?  We have just boarded the train to the Trocadero.  Little did we know that Sebastien was telling the tour guide that we have just gotten OFF the train at the Trocadero, so that she wouldn't leave without us.

We get off the train (behind the palace in the picture) and see the Tower, and it looks like it is just across the street.  That is because it is big.  We need to cross the courtyard between the two halves of the palace, walk down the length of the fountain, cross 2 streets and The Seine, and walk up a ramp.  I walk as fast as I can, and by some miracle we arrive only 2 minutes late.

The tour was fascinating.  I have all sorts of facts.  The Eiffel is 324 meters to the top (the Space Needle is only 184 m).  There are 1792 steps, if you want to climb them.  It was built it 1889 (the year Washington became a state) for the centennial of the French Revolution.  (Sebastien asked why there weren't 1789 steps).  It was originally supposed to be torn down, but Eiffel said that he hadn't been given the money for it, and it stayed.  A radio broadcast tower was added later, which came in handy during The battle of Marne in WW1.  Guy de Maupassant protested the tower on artistic grounds, but once it was built he ate in one of the restaurants there every day:  it was the only place in Paris where we did not have to look at the tower.  Seriously, there is lots more and you just have to get a tour guide.

And I had 2 extra:  Alex and Sebastien pointed out all sorts of landmarks.  Rather excitedly, I might add.

Here is one:  the French Pentagon.  Except it isn't in the shape of a Pentagon, they kind of forgot the 5th side.  But it is supposed to resemble a stealth bomber.

And here is the Arc de Triomphe.  I have never actually been there; 5 years ago there was a riot and the police did not want us to join it.  This time it was only a week after the French trashed the Champs Elysees because they had won the world cup.

Remember those 1792 steps?  Here is the last 15.  I climbed them to the top, and posted it on facebook.  And fooled people into thinking I had climbed all 1792.  I did consider walking the last 300 steps down, but my knees got out a 2 X 4 and knocked some sense into my head, so I took the elevator down instead.

Later, at a cafe drinking coffee (we did a lot of that, but that is what you are supposed to do in Paris), Sebastien asked if I like the tower.  My reply was that, hurrying there, I thought it would be OK to miss going up the tower, because Paris is not my home and I wouldn't know the landmarks.  But now that I have been up it, I have decided that missing it would not be OK.

The Iron Lady is going to be a different color starting next year..

Thursday, August 23, 2018


My French friends offered to take me to Normandy while I was there, and I casually said, on Facebook Messenger "YES!!!!"

And I am glad I did.

Here is what I had previously known about D-Day:  It happened, and we won the war in Europe because of it.  (No, I haven't seem "Saving Private Ryan." I don't like war movies and generally only watch them when I am forced to do so.)

Now I know a lot more.

One does not simply invade Hitler's Europe. 

It took over a year to plan, train, gather men and supplies, and make things (like large concrete docks).

The men invaded the beach in landing craft, as everybody knows.  Once they had secured a foothold, they made a temporary harbor on Gold Beach at Arromanches.  They had cast the concrete docks in England, towed them across 100 miles of choppy English Channel  (I am told the Channel is never not choppy, except during the Miracle of Dunkirk).  That is where the large ships docked.  Then they unloaded temporary piers and made several paths to the beach.  This is how they unloaded all the tanks, trucks, guns, ammo, food, medicines, etc etc etc.

The allies then proceeded to secure Normandy.  It is 25 miles to Caen, and it took 6 1/2 weeks to get there.  One of the biggest problems was the bocages -- hedgerows, in English.  Some of them were so overgrown that you can hide tanks in them.  (For comparison, it took another 4 weeks or so to get to Paris, a distance of 150 miles.)  This was among people that wanted to be liberated, with a resistance force that was doing things like destroying rail lines, cutting electricity, and causing other kinds of mayhem to disrupt Nazi movements.  Here are some hedgerows you can hide tanks behind. Several.

A typical road...what is behind the stone wall?

And then I realized how impossible an invasion of the Japanese main island would have been.

To those who died...

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Adventures at Sea-Tac Airport

I hate travel days.  Especially when you are going through Charles De Gaulle Airport on the way to somewhere else.  We arrived, walked long corridors, stood in lines at passport control, walked some more long corridors, used the bathroom, and got on the plane.  (that took 1 1/2 hours) But, we got on the plane and left on time, and arrived at Sea-Tac on time:  2:30 pm.

And waited next to the runway for 40 minutes.

This was eating into my Much Anticipated Leisurely First American Coffee In Three Weeks while waiting for the connecting flight to Pasco.

When we (10 of us) got off the plane, finally, we waited in line at passport control to use the automated input.  Then we waited in line for a person to look at the printout.  Then we waited even longer for our luggage (can someone tell me why the airport personnel can't take the luggage between planes themselves for international flights?) and I got to the gate for the next plane at 4:12...and it was supposed to take off at 4:22.  I already knew the flight had been delayed until 6.  When I actually got to the gate the flight had been delayed until 7:12.

So I got my Much Anticipated Leisurely First American Coffee In Three Weeks.

EVERY flight was delayed by 2 hours or more.

This meant that lines for food were longer than usual.  Lines for the bathroom, fortunately, were normal.

Then, while waiting in line to order food, My friend told me there was a gate change:  S6 to A13, if you know Sea Tac.  That meant I had to eat a faster dinner, and I got a roast beef sandwich (dry) instead of fish and chips (with, presumably, substandard tartar sauce).  It is all airport food.  Which is, well, comparable to airline dinners, which you can only get on international flights anyway.

Now we were next to a flight to Milwaukee that was 2 hours (or more) delayed -- and the pilot had timed out and could no longer fly.  So they called a new pilot in.  This is 5 in the afternoon in Seattle, which is the height of rush hour.  At this hour, I-5 is known as a parking lot.  By the time the pilot got there, the crew were in danger of timing out.  So the solution was to fly to Minneapolis, change crew (but not the pilot) and fly on to Milwaukee.  They would get there faster.

We were next to board our flight (it was now taking off at 7:58), and the gate agent told us we were flying to Milwaukee.  She was at the stage where she could still laugh, anyway.  Pro tip:  sympathize with the gate agent (like me), don't make fun of her (like one of my friends, who shall remain nameless).

The man who was next to me on the flight to Pasco had arrived at Sea Tac at 3, and waited on the tarmac for 2 hours.  It was starting to get warm on the plane.  So I should quit complaining.

What he had heard was that a flight that was about to take off had broken down on the runway (which is better than in the air...) and clearing that up (there are 4 parallel runways at SeaTac) had taken a little time.  All they are admitting to on the internet news was that delays from the east coast due to thunderstorms had lots more arrivals at Sea Tac in the afternoon.

When I landed in Pasco, I thanked the crew, and found out that they were flying back to Seattle and then to Calgary, and their day would probably last until 2:30 am.  And the pilot was likely to time out.

What I have decided is that it is more fun to wait for a delayed flight with 9 friends than when  you are all by yourself.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Rain, Etc

Those of you who know me know that 1, I  have been in Europe for 2 1/2 weeks,  2, I check the weather every day.   You might also have run across weather reports about Europe having a heat wave.  It has been consistently in  the high 80's here,  with upwards of 60 % humidity.  At home,  it had been consistently over 100, with a high temperature of 107 F (41.5 C) and 10 % humidity.

BUT everybody at home has air conditioning.

I have been dripping for 2 1/2 weeks. Alcohol makes it worse.  Which is too bad, because beer in cheaper than water in Prague.

Before I left home,  I checked the weather for Paris and Prague.  It showed rain every day,  and thunderstorms periodically.

And every day I was here, it was sunny,  hot, and the rain was pushed back a day or two.  I have decided that European weather must be harder to predict than Washington State weather.

Yesterday,  we finally got the rain and thunderstorms.   We were waking around Prague in the evening, and it got a little cloudy. Then we got nice big drops of rain.   Margaret and I stopped in a shop and bought umbrellas.

And contrary to the laws of purchasing supplies, we did not stop the rain.   It rained harder.   And then we heard low rumbling thunder of far away.   And then we saw lightning.

All my Midwestern friends hide your eyes for this next sentence.

We kept on walking in the streets of Prague.

I entertained my friends by reporting the number of seconds between lightning and thunder.  Once,  when I reported a 5 second delay after a 3 second delay,  George said hopefully, "So it is moving away?"

The next delay I was unable to report...I didn't have time to start counting.

Weather forecast for the day i return home:  110 F.  That is 43 C.

The only way to change that is for me to wash the car.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Traveling in the Czech mountains

For those who don't know,  most roads in Europe were designed by people several hundred (or thousand) years ago who, for some strange reason,  were unable to foresee the advent of the automobile.  As a result, those of us from the U. S. find it hard to believe just how small a two lane road with parking on both sides can be.  You can conceivably fit two cars on such a road, and it does happen all the time.  Once in Hamburg,  I finally felt like I was on a decent 2 lane road,  only to discover it was really 4 lanes.

Not in the Czech mountains.   They are not,  by any stretch of the American imagination,  2 lanes.  I (a bonafide U.S. citizen with a passport, voters card, and Washington State divers license to prove it) happen to think they are barely 1 lane.   Plus they twist and turn and go straight uphill.  Unless it is too much of an incline, then they make hairpin turns.  And I mean hairpins that are brand new from the store and haven't yet been bent out of shape.

Plus, the Czech national pastime is walking.   On those roads.  With kids and the occasional stroller.  With cars.  In fact,  a hike through the mountains will involve walking through villages, past people's front (and occasionally back) yards, and the reasonable possibility of stopping for liquid refreshment of your choice along the way.

Not so in the great state of Washington.   Even a day hike of, say, 4 miles (6.4 km) will involve carrying all your own water,  lunch that doesn't spoil,  and suitable precautions like first aid kit,  jacket,  food,  and other things just in case you are lost in the woods overnight.  But enough digression (for now).

So today,  they chartered a bus that took us from camp back to Prague.  The first turn was worrisome,  since missing it meant going straight down the hill through trees, but the driver is good (that is what the drivers assistant said) and it was a piece of cake.

Then we got to the hairpin turn,  the one that looks like brand-new never used hairpins.  Before they have been put on the paperboard card.   A couple of us had seen a large truck back and fill to make the turn, and simply assumed the driver would do the same.


He pulled straight into what passes for a parking lot in small villages, which was filled with cars of people consuming solid and liquid refreshment...and watching us... and proceeded to back down the road.

The Americans started chattering.

The Czech ignored it.

At least one was asleep.

Until he reached a wide spot in the road, where he could turn around.  (Although we wouldn't ask a bus to turn around in that space in the U. S.)

The Americans cheered.

The Czech kept sleeping.

Like the assistant told me, he is a good bus driver.

(His name is Karel. )